“ Salamis was an ancient city-state on the east coast of Cyprus, at the mouth of the river Pedieos, 6 km North of Famagusta. „
I am not an expert on archaeology - in fact I struggle to spell the word half the time but I do like writing about the subject. Cyprus is full of sites and most of the ones I have visited have bored me to tears. My oldest friend is nuts about Roman and Greek sites and whenever I am with her looking at old ruins she goes into a trance. I wish I had her enthusiasm but I don't. On my last trip to Cyprus I didn't even get out of the car to look at some of the excavations and sites - I looked from a distance. The only site/village I have ever show any interest in is Salamis.
~~~Salamis - what is it and where is it?~~~~
According to legend, Salamis was founded by Teukros, a Trojan warrior mentioned in Homer's Iliad. He named the city after his birthplace, an island to the south of Athens. In the 10th century BC Salamis took over from the abandoned Engomi as an important trading centre. At it's peak as many as 12,000 people lived in Cyprus's biggest town, but under the Romans it ceded its leading role to Paphos. In the 7th century AD, Salamis was finally abandoned and the inhabitants moved to Famagusta. It had been badly hit by an earthquake, had suffered a number of attacks by Arabs and the harbour had silted up.
~~~~Is it free to visit?~~~~~
No, you have to pay for a ticket. I can't remember how much we paid now but it wasn't a lot. Cypriots are some of the most laid back people I have ever come across and we certainly found a gem inside the reception hut - I am sure he had nodded off. My husband asked for a map but the sleepy guy couldn't find any - I don't think he had any. This was a shame because a map is useful - the site is large and quite dangerous if you don't know where you are walking or what you are walking into it. Always being prepared for any situation I had already printed off loads of info before leaving for Cyprus. It's okay to take photos here too.
Only a fraction of the town has been excavated. With the exception of one older tomb, the buildings date from the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Allow plenty of time for a full visit. Although Cyprus's largest open-air museum covers a wide area and can be glimpsed from a car, it is best to visit the ruins on foot. Try to end up at the beach near the ruined site where acacias, eucalyptus trees and pines provide ample shade for a picnic. In spring the blossom is stunning. Don't do what I did, tried to rush round. It's best to take it slowly so you can really take in and visualise what the town once looked like. If time is short then restrict your tour to the following highlights:-
The Roman gymnasium was built above an older Hellenistic wrestling school but, with its courtyard surrounded by a shaded colonnade, it was more than just a centre for sporting activities. The menfolk would meet here to discuss politics and philosophy and to conduct their business rather as in a modern coffee house. However, as with all public buildings, only an elite sector of the community, i.e. those with Roman citizenship, were allowed access. The statues, the finest of which are on display in Nicosia's National Museum, were all beheaded. The culprits were probably early Christians who saw the statues as symbols of paganism, but Venetian souvenir hunters are also suspected.
Directly adjacent to the eastern colonnade are the baths. The remains of mosaics showing scenes from Greek mythology can be seen in the niches of the sudatorium (sweating room) to the southeast. With the advent of Christianity or at the latest during the Iconoclastic period, the niches were bricked up to conceal the pagan pictures from the eyes of the guests. Water for the baths and the rest of the town arrived via an aqueduct, traces of which are still visible at the junction with the road to the royal necropolis. Kythrea, about 60km away, was the source of the town's water.
To reach the Roman theatre pass the stadium and the remains of the arena. With space for between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators, the theatre was one of the biggest in the Mediterranean. In antiquity a Dionysos altar would have stood in the middle of the semi-circular orchestra. Twenty of the 50 rows have been restored and, during the summer, plays and folk music performances are occasionally held here. It was a shame my friend wasn't with me on my last trip - I just know she would have sat on one of these rows imagining she was a spectator with her eyes closed humming a strange noise.
I am glad I actually got out of the car and walked around Salamis - it is quite something and if you let your imagination run riot you can conjure up all sorts of images but I still didn't get goosebumps or feel that this was the most wonderful experience I have ever had. It was very hot the day we visited even though it was only Spring and uncomfortable so hat is needed and sun cream. I was glad for a swim afterwards. This is a large site and you can easily spend 4-5 hours here especially if archaeology is your thing. What really impressed me was the care and attention that had been taken to preserve and reconstruct such a village like this. My favourite part of the trip around the site was finding all the hidden mosaics and frescoes - this was more my cup of tea.
Yes, I do recommend a visit if you are ever in Famagusta - it is worthwhile.
You can find Salamis on the east coast north of Gazimagusa/Famagusta, at the mouth of the river Pedieos
*This review is from one of my Cypriot travel journals and parts of it have been published on other sites*
A poster of the ruins of the ancient town of Salamis, Northern Cyprus, seen on a tourism fair in 1998, first brought my attention to this part of the world as a possible holiday destination.
I booked a 1 week holiday in the neighbourhood of Salamis, was smitten by the country, met my - now - husband and moved there within less than a year.
We lived in the small town of Yeni Bogazici, right opposite of Salamis, and for the next 1 1/2 years, until we moved to another village close by, the ruins were literally "down our street" - and our favourite spot for walks.
How to reach Salamis ?
If you are staying either in Magosa (Famagusta), the Greek part of Cyprus or in Girne (Kyrenia) you will approach Salamis from the south. It is situated about 8 km to the north of Magosa, right opposite to the entrance of the village Yeni Bogazici. The ruins are signposted with a brown arrow that reads "Salamis Haberleri" (Salamis ruins), but this sign is usually halfway hidden in some bushes and trees.
The village is signed out much better, just don't turn to the left but to the right, into a very narrow and unimpressive road with lots of pot-holes. Follow that road along the wire fence until you reach a beautiful beach , a restaurant called "Bedi's Bar" and a fairly big parking lot. This parking lot serves both, restaurant and ruins, and the parking is free. To find the entrance to Salamis you will have to make your way around the restaurant.
What is it all about ?
Salamis, not to be mixed up with the island Salamis in the Saronic Gulf where the Greeks and the Persians fought their famous battle in 480 BC, was an important harbour town and city kingdom.
It is situated near Enkomi (Tuzla), the former main trading centre of Alasyia , not far from the river Pediaeus.
When Enkomi, existing since 1600 BC and famous for trading copper, fell victim to an earthquake in 1100 BC and was totally destroyed, the rise of Salamis began.
To tell the whole history of the town could probably easily fill a book as it shares the same colourful history of the whole island of Cyprus and it was besieged and taken over by probably every power that ever existed in the near east.
Mythology says, that the founder of the city was Teucer, the son of king Telamon of Salamis (the island this time !). He was exiled and disowned by his father after he failed to take revenge for his half-brother Ajax's death during the Trojan war.
Fact is, that the first findings in Salamis - some burial jars - date back to the 11. century BC. The first coins of Salamis that have been found and which give material proof for its existence, date back to the 6.century.
At this time, the Assyrians had the power over Cyprus, Salamis was made capital and the city started to prosper and grew fast.
After the Assyrians it belonged to the Persians, the Greeks, the Egypts, the Macedonians and finally the Romans. Whoever had an empire these days could be sure to take over Cyprus for a while and rule it - until being defeated by whichever ancient super-power followed next.
By the time the Romans came in possession of Salamis the city had lost its status as capital of Cyprus to Paphos but, being a favourite with both emperors Trajan and Hadrian, it was massively extended and most of the most magnificent buildings still existing date back to the Roman era.
What humans couldn't achieve, no matter how often Salamis had been subject to warfare it survived over centuries, nature could.
Several severe earthquakes damaged the city between 75 AD and the 4th century. It was rebuilt each time, but the silting of the all-important harbour of the town finally led to its decline.
When the Arabs attacked Salamis in the 7th century the last inhabitants left and fled to the neighbouring Famagusta.
There must have been some change in the climate too, as most of the ruins have been found totally covered in sand - which at least saved them from being taken down and used as building material in the centuries to come.
Once you approach the entrance to the site the first thing that will strike you is, how unpretentious it is.
Forget all you've seen in places of similar importance here !
No air-conditioned superstore sized entrance with multiple cashiers, information desk, security officers, CCTV cameras and over-prized gift shop - a little stone hut it is.
When entering you'll find out that it is as run down from the inside, as it looks from the outside.
A reception desk that has seen better days, walls that cry out for a new lick of paint, some far from being straight shelves (empty), a tired ventilator and a less than enthusiastic receptionist. He'll exchange your money for entrance tickets - not that there would be anyone to check them - and hands you a map of the site. If you are lucky that is !
I've experienced it often enough that they had run out and the result is tourists that stumble all over the site like a flock of lost sheep. Take the map - if available - and keep it in your hand. You'll need it, it is a big and confusing place.
When entering to what was once the city of Salamis, you'll first have to turn right and follow the relatively new asphalted road. After only a few meters the first of the ruins will come into sight and the picture they will present you with is awesome.
The gymnasium and the great hall:
Roman columns of various heights, white marble against the blue Cypriot sky.
It is the palaestra, the gymnasium, an exercise ground for the noble citizens of Rome. The gymnasium and the great hall are probably the most famous photographed ancient objects in Cyprus.
From here you will leave the comfortable road and it is stony and uneven paths. This is something all ancient monuments have in common and sadly it will be maybe to much of a challenge for the less able bodied.
The great hall, belonging to the gymnasium, is vast and some of the original tiles on the floor have been saved - although the design has suffered immensely as lots of them are missing or broken.
A big number of statues will catch the eye of the visitor and what is most striking is that none of them has a face - if they have a head at all !
When Christianity evolved in Salamis the first followers must have been rather prudish and they saw the statues and mosaics, usually of roman goddesses and gods, as blasphemy and destroyed their faces or chopped of the heads. Most of the mosaics in Salamis shared this fate.
To the right you will be able to enter a maze of rooms - or what is left of them.
They do belong to the bath complex and what you will see are the remnants of the Sudatorim (hot bath), Caldarium (steam bath), Frigidarium (cold room) and toilets. I've read somewhere, that there were 44 toilets but can not comment if this is correct, as I never got the idea to count them. The Romans had a good system of sanitation which meant that the problem was solved under the ground with running water. This was 2000 years ago. The modern days Cypriot is having a sewage tank under the house (we used to call it "the hole")...
The Romans liked their baths and I can understand why. It must have been a bit like visiting a spa these days. To somebody who isn't exactly a specialist in Roman archaeology it will be impossible to make out which of the rooms was used for what purpose and you will need to have your map at hand.
The gymnasium itself is well worth to have a closer look at. The exercise ground lies within the columns, it is quite overgrown but still accessible and it isn't hard to envision some Roman heroes practising. At the north end of the gymnasium you will reach the swimming-pool. This one is, as everything else here, extremely well preserved. It is surrounded with the statues of some very busty goddesses, face or headless again, and this is very interesting if you know that this pool was for the men only... - Men !
Just around the corner from the gymnasium.
The theatre in Salamis has been built around 200 AD and provided space for about 15000 visitors, which is a pretty impressive sum in my book.
Take the time and climb up the rows to the top. You'll have a very nice view from up there and will also get a much better idea about the sound. The statues that must have been standing in the theatre have been removed to museums and only some of their pedestals are left so it looks a bit empty.
The theatre is still used today and every now and then there are concerts or plays. I always wanted to go and see one but never got the chance for one reason or another. So if one should happen while you are there and you manage to get hold of a ticket then go and grab the chance. I wouldn't be bothered about the music too much, just the chance to attend a concert in this stunning place would be much more important to me.
Passing from the few leftovers of an old water clock, the even fewer of an old forum and the much better preserved ones of a rather big Byzantine Cistern you'll slowly make your way towards the Agora, the roman market place and centre of social life back then.
There isn't all that much that is left of it, but what is clearly visible is the sheer size of it.
It is one of the largest roman marketplaces outside of Rome in the Mediterranean - if not the largest at all. There have been massive columns to create a colonnade which housed the market stalls. What is left are only the stumps of the columns but their diameters make it easy to understand how large they must have been. At one end of the market there has been a temple, dedicated to Zeus, but there isn't much left of it. On the other side was probably a forum but only one column is what is left
The whole market is overgrown and it gets harder and harder to explore the ruins here. Still, take your time and have a close look around. Just try to imagine how it must have looked like nearly 2000 years ago, with numerous small shops inside of the columns, market sellers weighing their goods, servants buying supplies for their masters, people gossiping - it is easy to get lost in some daydreams here and there won't be anyone to disturb you.
Have I already mentioned that the site of the Salamis ruins is rather on the big scale or, to make it very clear - HUGE ? More than one square mile, to be exact.
Most people only visit the theatre and the gymnasium and then give up, which is a shame as there is so much more to see, although I have to admit, that these two are the best preserved of the ruins. By the time you have reached the agora you are not very likely to see many other visitors and if you go even further, you are very likely to have the place all to yourself.
Basilica of St Epiphanos - the churches of Salamis
The largest of the three excavated churches in Salamis is not too far from the market and the next point for your visit. Again, it was a big building, but don't expect to find it to be intact. It was built in 400 AD and, although younger than the what you've seen so far, only its ruins are left.
Recognisable without further explanation are the stumps of the columns, which have formed the aisles of the church. The altar had been situated in the apse at the far end of the church.
There are two more churches on the site but only one, close to the harbour, is really well preserved and has still some of its walls intact.
The quarters of the slaves
After leaving the market behind and passing the churches you will walk towards the sea and, about halfway, in between some sand dunes, you will find yourself confronted with another part of Roman history.
Roman villas were very large buildings and very luxurious. To keep a household like this running it needed a lot of people. Only to keep the hot water floating needed several people to constantly keep the fires burning. As paying someone to do these jobs for them somehow didn't appeal to the noble citizens of Rome they "employed" slaves to run their households, baths, official buildings, etc. There were slaves and semi-slaves. While the first usually lived on the same grounds as their owners, the semi slaves lived in a separate area of the town, known as Slaves' quarters, in tiny houses.
These areas were usually as far away from the villas and, if a harbour was existing in a Roman city, mostly not far from it.
In Salamis about 30 of these little houses have been excavated. No under-floor heating and running water here : A bucket, a well and a stone basin in the house to fill it was. Some of the basins are still existing.
Those little huts don't make up for much, the leftovers of some old walls, down in the ground, excavated around 70 cm deep. Still, for me, one of my favourite places in Salamis. Up until here rarely any tourist goes, the place is overgrown with flowers ( of course only in spring, afterwards it is as dried out as the rest), some birds and, apart from that, nothing else ! We've spend hours climbing through the small dwellings, exploring.
On one such day I found myself face to face with a huge snake.
I am not exactly a hero and when snakes and spiders are involved I am absolutely terrified. Alarmed by my screams my husband came running and, to my surprise, stopped as soon as he saw the monstrous reptile and started to laugh.
" Stop screaming, that's a black one - they are harmless. Everybody knows that..." So I was told.
In the meantime I did a bit of research and found out, that he was right. There are 6 different kinds of snakes in Northern Cyprus.
The biggest, to which species my friend from Salamis belonged, can get up to 2 1/2 metres long.
There are 3 different kind of venomous snakes in the area, but only one of them is really dangerous to humans. This one is a kind of Viper, it is greyish in colour and therefore very hard to see on stony and sandy ground - be aware if hiking !
If you should meet one of these then try to stay calm and make a slow retreat - usually they don't attack unless you scare them.
The other venomous snakes are brownish/black and will warn you with a hissing sound, Their bites might be extremely uncomfortable and you are advised to see a doctor, but they will not endanger your life.
Of course I don't want to scare you and Salamis is certainly not a snake infested hell, but as these animals are very shy and Salamis is a very quiet place with lots of lizards, birds (eggs), etc you are much more likely to meet one here than in your hotel or on the beach.
So, don't forget : If it's black don't panic - they are harmless. Everybody knows ...
Last but not least you will have made it back down to the sea, although quite a bit further south than from where you've started.
The harbour is situated in a beautiful little bay and what is absolutely amazing is, that the sockets of the 2000 year old jetty have survived until today. You can't reach them by foot, but if you want, you can swim out there. Do it only if you are a good swimmer as there is a bit of a current and be careful with children.
If you take your time here and have a good look around the beach you will realise, that it is "littered" with small pieces of marble or pottery. They have been washed out at sea and brought back by it. They can be picked up -and you are allowed to keep whatever you find here.
Excavations in Salamis began in 1952 and lasted until 1974 when the war brought them to an abrupt ending. What you can see in Salamis today is only a very small part of the former town and you might remember, if visiting, that most of it is still under the ground. The whole site is, basically, one big museum.
Even if you are not all that interested in ancient ruins, the sight of the columns in the palaestra, combined with the scenery, will probably not leave you totally untouched. It is one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen - and I have seen quite a few sites of similar age in other countries.
As it is not overrun by tourists you will have your peace and I would suggest that you do not only concentrate on the ruins, but also on the nature surrounding it. Relatively untouched there is an abundance of flowers in spring, mainly mimosas, but also some - in this part of the world - rather unexpected eucalyptus trees and pine.
My main bugbear with the site is that it is not signed out as it should and, with dozens of small paths in between the ruins, it is incredibly easy to get lost. It also would be very helpful to have some information tableaux at the ruins, as it will be hard for most to guess what the various buildings had been used for and for which remarkable details to watch out for.
I guess I don't have to mention that there are no interactive games, worksheets, colouring in books, etc to keep the young visitors entertained ?
Some tips, a few words of warning and a plea:
- Plan enough time, Salamis is big and you don't want to rush through it.
- Go early in the morning. They open around 9 o'clock and believe me, it is much less exhausting to take the trip before mid-day when the sun burning.
- The ways, often not much more than paths, are very uneven and the ruins overgrown. This is a place for comfortable shoes, so leave the heels in the hotel and put on trainers or hiking shoes. They will also be much more useful if you should really meet a snake. They tend to hide and you won't like to find yourself within inches from a viper with nothing but flip-flops to protect your toes.
- There is no possibility to buy anything after entering the site. The restaurant next to the ruins will be very unlikely to be open if you go really early in the morning, so don't forget to bring enough to drink and maybe a light snack. Every hotel will be more than happy to pack a picnic for you if you let them know the evening before.
- If you haven't gone digital yet, don't forget to bring enough films.
- Be aware that Cyprus can get very hot. There isn't really any shelter from the sun while you are on the site, so make sure to use a sunscreen with a high factor and to wear a hat. As great as the white marble looks in the bright sunshine - this can be very harmful for your eyes, so don't forget your sunglasses!
- Don't overestimate yourself ! If you feel that the heat is getting to you, then rather return back or send someone from your company back to the entrance to have you picked up. During my time in Cyprus I've seen and heard of many cases of tourists with sunstrokes. This mostly affects the very young and the elderly, but no-one is immune to it.
- If, after leaving the site, you feel like going for a swim at the beach next to the entrance (in front of the restaurant) you will find a small wooden pier there. There are some warning signs that you shouldn't jump from there and not swim around this particular area. Well, there is a reason for this as there is a very strong current and there have been some very tragic accidents. So stay well away and paddle a bit further up the beach where it is perfectly safe.
- The Salamis ruins have suffered a lot from vandalism and littering.
Is it really necessary to etch your name in the stone or scribble it on the marble with your text-marker ? Probably not!
Plenty of people have left their marks on these ruins over the last 2000 years, but as our understanding of the value of sites like this has grown, so should also our respect and the wish to preserve them for the coming generations. There aren't any security cameras around and patrolling guards won't cross your ways too often while there, but if they should catch you while leaving your personal mark you will face prosecution. The same goes if you should like to start your own little excavation or if they should catch you while trying to take some tiles of or other bits. The charges are harsh if they catch you, a few days in jail and a draconic fine can be guaranteed.
-The Cypriots themselves have a very relaxed attitude towards recycling and disposing of their rubbish. The first just isn't happening at all, while the later is done everywhere. The result are empty bin bags, drinks cans and beer bottles all over the countryside. Not a nice sight at all ! I know that there aren't a hell lot of litter-boxes on the site of Salamis, so I can only hope that you will set a good example and take your rubbish back to the entrance or your hotel with you, where you can get rid of it.
-While in the area go and also visit the tombs of the kings and the monastery of St Barnabas. Both are only a kilometre down the main road and your entrance tickets enable you to see the tombs. Not too much to see here, most of the items that have been found in the graves have been re-located to the museum for national history in Nicosia, but the burial chambers themselves are worth a visit and you can have a glimpse at the bones of a donkey. Or mule - I forgot which one it was.
The Monastery is opposite the tombs and you'll have to pay separate admission. It is not expensive though and inside there is an exhibition of items that have been found in Salamis. This ranges from coins, jewels, pottery, glassware to tools and weapons. The rather odd one out is a room with a collection of icons. There is a little coffee shop where you can sit down and finally reflect on the day.
Outside of the monastery is a small chapel in which you will find the bones of the saint, who had been born in Salamis as a Jew with the name Joseph. He was the one to acknowledge that Paul's conversion to Christianity was sincere and he was very important for the development of Christianity after the death of Jesus . From what I read he has been stoned to death in Salamis around 60 AD and his bones have been found 400 years later. I wouldn't bet too much on whether the bones in the chapel belonged to the real Barnabas or not and it is a smelly and mouldy place, but the exhibition in the monastery is worth to be looked at.
Thanks for staying with me until here and reading this, Sandra
Salamis was an ancient city-state on the east coast of Cyprus, at the mouth of the river Pedieos, 6 km North of Famagusta.